Seven walk-off wins. Eleven comeback wins. When do Gator Softball fans accept this as a regularity? A dramatic finish to their game against Missouri in the semifinals in the SEC Tournament punched Florida’s ticket to the championship game.
For the Gators, this is their sixth comeback win in their last eight games played. That includes a late-game flurry of home runs from Charla Echols and Kendyl Lindaman in the quarterfinals against Mississippi State.
Furthermore, Friday’s win opens the opportunity for a three-peat of SEC Tournament Championships.
The Gators found themselves behind early once again. Missouri put a runner across the plate in the first. However, unlike the dramatic finishes of games past, Florida answered in bottom of the second.
In fact, Florida actually opened a lead of their own. In the third inning, Kendyl Lindaman hit a two-run home run, her 70th in her career. Then, two innings later in the fifth, Florida tacked on two additional runs. Missouri answered with a solo shot in the fifth, but the Gators held a 5-2 lead.
That is when things went awry.
Two comfortable outs in the top of the seventh put the Gators one out away from a trip to the championship game. After a double, walk and single scored another run to shorten the deficit to two runs, Natalie Lugo replaced reliever Katie Chronister.
Emma Raabe stepped into the batter’s box to face Lugo with two runners on. Raabe pumped a ball just over the fence in left field behind Jaimie Hoover. Just as the Gators did to Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Missouri earlier in the season, a three-run homer caused a lead change late in the game.
Tim Walton’s Gators now had three outs to work with to either tie the game or book a spot in the championship game.
Fortunately for the Gators, the top of the order rolled around in the bottom of the seventh inning. Hannah Adams walked and Emily Wilkie reached on a hit-by-pitch for the second time in the game. After Charla Echols advanced the runners, Kendyl Lindaman picked up her third RBI of the game on a sacrifice fly to score Hannah Adams. Katie Kistler, pinch-running for Wilkie, advanced to third on the throw home.
In steps Jaimie Hoover. With two outs and a 3-1 count, Hoover lined a grounder to the shortstop. Officially scored as an error, Jenna Laird bobbled the ball, providing the slightest of margins to allow Jaimie Hoover to beat out the throw to first and putting Kistler across the plate.
To be fair, the play at first was so close that the call stood after a lengthy review by the umpires.
While it is certainly not the traditional walk-off winner, like Julia Cottrill’s to clinch a regular season SEC title, it certainly rival Cottrill’s in terms of importance.
Next Up: Alabama
At the beginning of the season, most SEC softball pundits picked Florida and Alabama to go first and second in the SEC.
However, both teams earned their spot in this year’s SEC Championship Game. With Florida’s dramatic walk-off punching their ticket, the Crimson Tide staved off Tennessee in their semifinal matchup.
Pitcher Montana Fouts and catcher Bailey Hemphill, the SEC Player of the Year, are the ones to watch. Hemphill is the standout ace for Alabama, and Hemphill’s sixth-inning two-run homer put the Crimson Tide up 6-5 late to see out an intense victory.
The Gators won the series against Alabama this season on the road, featuring pitching gems in two of the games by Lugo and Hightower.
Both teams sit on five SEC Tournament Championships, and this will be the fifth time the two teams meet in the final. Florida is 3-1 in those games, most recently in 2019.
First pitch is set for 5 p.m. on ESPN2.